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6.5 earthquake near Eureka, Calif., snaps power lines and topples televisions [Updated]

January 9, 2010 |  5:50 pm

A strong earthquake, estimated magnitude 6.5, rocked the Eureka, Calif., area this afternoon, snapping power lines, toppling televisions, disrupting power throughout the region and forcing the evacuation of at least one mall. 

The earthquake was centered under the Pacific Ocean, about 25 miles southwest of Eureka, at 4:27 p.m. A tsunami was not expected, according to the National Weather Service.

[Updated 5:57 p.m.: The California Highway Patrol in Eureka reported no major damage to roads and bridges and highways and said roads are open. 

"Right now it's very preliminary but there does not seem to be any damage that is overly significant." said Capt. Dale Cannon. "We've got some minor glass breakage, some gas mains affected and some power lines down."

He said he has not heard of reports of any injuries.]

[Updated: 6:27 p.m.: The California Emergency Management Agency said there has been no call from the Eureka area for emergency assistance  because only minimal damage has been reported.

"We've had some reports of minor damage, cosmetic damage, windows broken," said  Kelly Huston, assistant secretary of the agency. "But so far, it's all very minor, and no damage as far as we can tell to roadways and thoroughfares."

The last major earthquake in the area was a magnitude 7.2 tremor on April 25, 1992, which caused some injuries, Huston said. That quake occurred in roughly the same area offshore and triggered a small tsunami, followed by two strong aftershocks.]

“It was a monstrous one,” said Phil Burns, owner of Mity Nice Bakery Cafe Restaurant in Eureka, which suffered no major damage. “I’ve been through a lot of these and usually they’re sharp but this one was very wiggly; it was rolling in all directions.” 

Burns said it took his mother half an hour to be evacuated from the Bayshore Mall. 

William Bowman, 60, was at home in the south Eureka fishing village of King Salmon — about 10 miles from the epicenter — when the quake hit, shattering heirloom dishware and toppling a television.

“I hit the floor,” he said. “It was a long one. I thought the house was coming down.”

The shaking lasted about 10 seconds, snapping power lines and knocking out power throughout the isolated seaside community of about 750. When it stopped, people gathered in the street. Some were visibly panic-stricken. Others yelled, "You all right?" in the direction of neighbor’s homes.

The next sounds Bowman heard was that of engines revving as people began to stream out of the village on its only access road, racing toward what he described as “the closest higher ground, 150-foot high Bell Hill.”

Bowman and his wife, however, drove to their restaurant in the nearby community of Cutten. “We lost a few nice bottles of wine,” he said.

A newly installed tsunami warning system was not activated.

Some neighborhoods appeared to be calm. Eureka Mayor Virginia Bass said of her neighborhood, "I don't see smoke. I don't hear sirens all over the place. My phones are working and the power is on." 

Sandra Hall, owner of Antiques and Goodies in Eureka, said the quake moved her shop in all directions.

Her store was littered with broken lamps, dishes and wardrobe items. She said there were at least four people in her store when the quake struck.  A couple managed to run out of the store’s main entrance, while two women took shelter under a table.   

“We’ve been through a lot of earthquakes but I can’t recall there ever being any this bad,” Hall said.

Richard Allen, a UC Berkeley seismologist, said the area where the earthquake occurred was in the Mendocino Triple Junction, where three tectonic plates collide, one of the most seismically active regions of the San Andreas transform system. 

Several aftershocks have been recorded.

Did you feel it?  Report your experience to the U.S. Geological Survey.

-- Ruben Vives, Louis Sahagun, Patrick McDonnell, Cara Mia Dimassa and Rong-Gong Lin II